In 1880, a poor harvest led the tenants of Lord Erne to seek a 25% reduction in rents. Lord Erne refused, and his land agent, Charles Boycott, tried to evict eleven tenants from the estate. The Land League organized a campaign to shun Boycott. No one would work in his fields or his house. Local businesses refused to sell to him. The post office stopped delivering his mail. He was unable to hire anyone to harvest the crops on the lands he managed. When fifty scabs were hired from outside the region, Boycott brought in a thousand policemen and soldiers to protect them, which cost him more than the value of the harvest. By the end of that year, "boycott" had become a verb in the pages of the international press. Land League tactics like these eventually led to the Land Purchase Act of 1903, which provided long term loans for Irish tenant farmers to buy the land they worked.
There is a tremendous amount of confusion and misinformation about what the BDS call does and does not include. There is also a tremendous amount of emotion. There are some Jews who believe that Israel guarantees their safety by maintaining a militarized state, and treating the Palestinian people as they do. For them, BDS is an assault on their survival. In reality, Israeli colonial violence, with its endless attempts to crush every aspect of Palestinian sovereignty, culture, life, makes the world more dangerous for Jews, not less.
There are people who believe that BDS calls for isolating individual Israeli artists and intellectuals, that the academic and cultural portions of the boycott demand an end to collaborations with colleagues, or the publication, exhibition or performance of their work. BDS calls for the boycott of Israeli institutions that support the oppression of Palestinians. This includes universities that conduct research for the military or other agents of social control, and generate theories to justify and normalize racist policies against Palestinians. It includes state funded arts organizations whose work upholds, whitewashes, celebrates a state built on profoundly racist ideas. It does not boycott individuals except when they act as representatives of the state or semi-official organizations that promote the state.
The English people who stopped using West Indian sugar were not survivors of an attempted genocide. They didn't for a moment think the choice would put their lives at risk. Our history complicates the emotional reactions of many Jews to BDS, especially those who believe a well armed nation-state is the only guarantor of Jewish survival. (Witness the Jew who emailed me side by side photos of Jewish BDS supporters, and Nazis boycotting Jewish stores.) But like the French and Danish Jews who refused Netanyahu's invitation to move to Israel, I put my faith in solidarity instead, in the difficult joys of alliance, where no one's safety is sacrificed for anyone else's, and because of that, BDS is my road of hope, a path to the only genuine security there is.